In the life and times of Kate Hoos, few other bands have meant as much to me as Fugazi has. I’ve listened to them probably more than just about anyone else and being a serial completionist, I’ve also kept up with pretty much all of the various projects the members have done before and after the band—and not just the obvious ones that involve Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto like Minor Threat, Rites of Spring and Coriky. I’ve also listened to and loved the deeper cuts like Joe Lally’s work in Ataxia and all of his solo records (in particular the first two, There To Here and Nothing is Underrated), as well as Brendan Canty’s work with Lois Maffeo on The Union Themes. I’ve been invested in this group’s output for close to 30 years—be it together as a unit or as individuals or in collaboration with other groups of people. All of which led me to standing on the outdoor patio of Union Pool under the threat of impending rain (that fortunately didn’t arrive until much later) to see Canty and Lally performing in their latest creative venture together, The Messthetics.
While I’ve been a long time fan of the work of Canty and Lally, this was actually my first time getting to see either of them perform, bad timing and circumstance always finding ways to keep me from shows at previous points. (And yes, I am old enough to have seen Fugazi play, things just never worked out.) To say the wait was well worth it would be an understatement. Particularly to see Canty playing up close—and with a much busier and more intricate style than he employed in Fugazi—as well as incorporating his signature ships bell much more often, it was a true delight for a fellow drummer to see. And to witness the rock solid connection of this rhythm section was truly unparalleled. They have a musical bond that runs back over 35 years and is as deep and unwavering as any I have seen.
But though I love Fugazi, they are not the only link/attraction to this band for me because as some readers may or may not know, I also love experimental and instrumental music. Guitarist Anthony Pirog rounds out the trio and is a major figure in the jazz and experimental scene in Washington DC, adding many layers of rich nuance and colorful complexity to the air tight rhythms laid down by Canty and Lally. I’m not as well versed on jazz I admit, but I have in more recent years explored a little bit more from that world and more avant-garde genres, so getting to see his otherworldly guitar skills was also quite the treat. Pirog may just be the personification of “play a guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell” mentioned by Chuck Berry In “Johnny B Goode,” since he makes it look entirely effortless while he does things many other guitarists (including this one) can only dream of.
They have a sound that is hard to nail down as rock, jazz, and post hardcore elements are all there, with of course a strong experimental bent, and I even hear perhaps a bit of a surf vibe in the main driving riff of “Serpent Tongue.” Suffice it to say that there’s just a lot to sink your teeth into and despite the pedigree and depth of the three musicians involved, no single element overshadows another and it all blends together in a seamless and entirely unique to them way. I was pleased in particular when I first heard them that they chose to keep the band instrumental as there is just such a special and unique quality to instrumental music in general, regardless of genre or style. I love getting lost in it and applying my own feelings and emotions to the sounds I’m hearing rather than having a road map laid out for me by a lyricist.
They played a set that was a mix of songs from their first two records 2018’s The Messthetics, and 2019’s Anthropocosmic Nest, as well as some new as-of-yet unreleased material. Special guest saxophonist James Brandon Lewis joined them for the beautiful and lilting “Once Upon A Time,” and for the final untitled song which was also new (referred to as “New Single” on the setlist). With the inclusion of that new music, one can hope that a third album is already in the works and will arrive sometime this year.
SAVAK opened the show and really were the most fitting band that could have done so with their own links back to the Dischord/DC scene. They have almost as impressive a resume as The Messthetics, featuring former/current members of Holy Fuck, Obits, the Cops and Edsel. To add to that, James Canty (aka Brendan Canty’s younger brother) filled in on drums and comes with his own long list of musical accomplishments, having played with The Make-Up, Nation of Ulysses, and Ted Leo and The Pharmacists. They always put on a great set and I was happy to hear a lot of their newer material from their latest album, Human Error/Human Delight, which was released this past April. They also hit one of my favorite of their songs, “I Don’t Want to Be Defended,” which appears on their 2017 album Cut-Ups.
I don’t tend to use words like “heroes” when I think of the musicians I love and respect the most, that feels trite at the end of the day and frankly abstract. But if I were going to use words like that to describe any musicians, the four members of Fugazi would be deserving of that title. Their music and their message shaped so much of who I am and it was a dream come true to see even two of the members perform in such an intimate setting. Even more so, it’s wonderful to see when musicians are humble and all around nice people and don’t feed into egotistical notions even when they could. I say this because I was introduced to Joe briefly by a mutual friend and he graciously chuckled when I joked that I had “maybe listened to an old band he was in once or twice” and I saw Brendan chatting with quite a few fans as he packed up. They didn’t go hide in a green room, they were out interacting and engaging with folks before and after their set. As a fellow musician I know how taxing that can often be, but as a fan I always appreciate it. There’s no bones about the fact that this show was a special day for me and one I won’t soon forget.
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos)